Chinese Rower Misses His Olympic Race; Medal Hopes Threatened

"Serious consequences" expected for rower and his coaches after missing race.

ByABC News
August 13, 2008, 7:13 AM

BEIJING, August 13, 2008 -- China has pulled out all the stops to win the Olympics gold-medal count, investing in specific events and incubating potential champions in a Soviet-inspired sports system in which child athletes eat, drink and sleep sports from as young as age 6.

So when gold medal hopeful rower Zhang Liang, China's national single sculls champion, didn't show up for his race on Saturday, it was a source of consternation.

Zhang's conspicuous absence cost China two opportunities for gold medals. It is likely to adversely affect his coaches and their jobs -- and tarnish his career for good.

At 6-feet-4-inches tall, Zhang, 22, is a star among approximately 2,000 professional full-time rowers supported by the Chinese government. Zhang has been rowing for six years, training for up to eight hours a day at government-sponsored training facilities.

"He thought he was in the next heat," Wei Di, the director of China's water sports governing body, told Xinhua, China's state-run news agency.

Zhang apparently thought he was in the third heat of the single sculls but was actually entered in the second. And the two heats were 10 minutes apart, so Zhang was not on the water at all.

"This shows we still have some problems in team organization," Wei said.

Because he missed Saturday's heat, Zhang was also disqualified from the men's double sculls event that followed later in the day. Zhang's absence cost his teammate Sui Hui the opportunity to qualify.

According to anthropologist Susan Brownell, author of "Beijing's Games: What the Olympics Mean to China," there will likely be serious consequences for Zhang's coaches for missing the race.

"The chain of command should've gotten him to the race on time," Brownell, a former athlete, told ABC News. "It's really not the athlete's responsibility. There is a whole team and I think those are the heads that are going to roll."